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What is a Spam Trap?

Spam is the bane of electronic communication. Everything from erotic advertisements to “unbelievable” free offers, spam clutters inboxes, and wastes time. Spam is generated from accounts that seek to procure as many email addresses as possible and then send mass messages. With the use of increasingly refined technology, spammers have gotten quite good at what they do, sometimes even slipping by the normal filters most email accounts have in place.

However, spammers are not the only ones utilizing technology to play the game. In recent years, some creative people in the anti-spam movement have come up with alternative email addresses that work in reverse, luring spam messages and then blocking these unsolicited emails before they can move ahead to legitimate addresses. These distinctive email addresses are known as spam traps.

Spam traps have been developed from honeypots, which have long been used to section off abusive or problematic content from the rest of a network. Spam traps utilize similar technology, only with otherwise unused IP space online. The spam trap will look and act like a normal email account, which is how it attracts spam. Once attracting spam, spam traps can effectively shut down its travel path. They do this by tracking where the spam has come from and making sure that IP address is blocked in the future. This works particularly well for traps that are connected to a network, since they can essentially block email from that particular IP address for all users on the network.

There are a number of spam traps now available for individual use, allowing users to subscribe to the spam trap service in order to reduce the amount of junk mail in the user’s email account. This type of spam trap works very similarly to the standard honeypot version, allowing users to block spam and keep their inboxes clean. Spam traps in general can help identify malicious accounts and slowly put a damper on the spammer’s ability to reach new addresses.

A spam trap must be created very carefully because the only mail it should receive is junk mail. Spam traps function under the premise that all email being received is illegitimate, and if a real email should be sent to such traps, then the sender’s reputation would be affected. This could potentially prevent legitimate senders from accessing clients or subscribers, which would hamper the sender’s goals and purpose. However, spam traps are designed to avoid this, making sure that the email address being used is well hidden and only accessible to spammers. Sometimes, spam traps are created from long-dormant email addresses or other addresses crafted to look like the real thing in order to fool spammers.

While it can be problematic to send to spam traps, legitimate organizations and websites should not have a problem as long as they are procuring their email addresses in legal ways. Spam traps are virtually undetectable; they have to be in order to attract spam in the first place. Spammers usually find these addresses by doing internet searches for lists of random email addresses, which is the only place where a spam trap address would be listed. It is a word of warning to legitimate senders to always keep their practices above board in order to avoid being classified as spam.

There are a few other caveats when it comes to spam traps. Sometimes, spam traps may catch real email addresses if other recipients of the spam message respond to or forward the message. If spammers should discover that the address is a spam trap, they can take measures to taint the address or cause a backscatter of bounced spam.

These drawbacks are usually mild, especially when compared with the service provided by spam traps. The sheer volume of junk mail on the internet can be rather overwhelming, and spam traps play a part in keeping that unwanted traffic to a minimum, benefiting users worldwide.

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